At nearly 50 episodes, the shōnen Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is just getting started. (There were over 700 episodes of Naruto and Naruto Shippuden). The anime has time to make changes that will set it apart from its predecessor. However, to surpass Naruto, Boruto will also need to fix the problems that Naruto created. Here’s what Boruto needs to do differently.
Naruto introduced us to many great kunoichis, such as Lady Tsunade of the Legendary Sannin and Mei Terumī, the Fifth Mizukage. With such powerful women in the Naruto universe, it was disappointing to watch them get pushed to the sidelines. Most were written into aging gender norms or saw their development and agency stripped from them in favor of the men in their lives. Just take a look at Kurenai. Hailed as Konoha’s top genjutsu user, Kurenai’s skills rival that of Itachi Uchiha‘s, one of the best shinobis ever. However, in the anime, enemies easily overtake her in battle, meaning we never see her live up to the hype. After Asuma’s death, Kurenai was pushed further into the background, as she spent her time raising their daughter.
Now, we have characters like Sarada, likely a do-over for Kishimoto’s poor handling of her mother Sakura, shining in battle. Sarada isn’t just a support character or healer (like her mother). The key to her happiness doesn’t lie in pining after a guy who literally tried to kill her. No, Sarada dreams of becoming the Hokage, something that no member of her clan has ever accomplished. Such a big dream should force the anime to focus on her rise through the ranks. Hopefully, we will see this sort of character development spill over to other female ninjas like Chōchō and Sumire.
The second half of Naruto became a Naruto-and-Sasuke bro fest. If you weren’t a part of this dynamic duo, you could kiss your character development goodbye. The show continued to introduce us to new and interesting characters. However, they became nothing more than props for Naruto and Sasuke to interact with or overcome. This rapid-fire method of filling out the roster had a negative effect on viewer empathy, especially during the Fourth Shinobi World War. In the penultimate fight against evil, shinobi forces die left and right, but we barely flinch or shed a tear.
Boruto can solve this problem by spending a little more time with the shinobi from his graduating class. We’ve already seen hints that this might happen. All of Boruto’s classmates appear in the anime’s third ending. Pair this with Boruto’s desire to stay close to his classmates as they embark on their ninja journey, and we may see meaningful character arcs for them in the future. Hopefully, more of his classmates will get backstories as interesting as Mitsuki’s tale of finding his own way.
Power creep, the introduction of ninja abilities that render previous ones obsolete, was a major problem in Naruto. Kakashi, the Legendary Sannin, and the five Kage were initially the power level to strive for. The gap between these ninjas and Naruto’s generation was considerable. That is until Naruto and Sasuke surpassed everyone. The pair received power boost after power boost until their powers became god-tier, rendering every over ninja in the series useless during the war.
Admittedly, this will be a difficult problem for Boruto and friends to overcome. It is unlikely that any shinobi, including Sarada and Boruto, will surpass their parents. However, Boruto could find a way to nerf or balance out these powers. The writers could give Naruto and Sasuke consequences, similar to the blindness caused by using the Mangekyō Sharingan. A nerf that makes it nearly impossible or inconvenient for them to sustain or use abilities like Six Paths Sage Mode and Susanoo. Or, the show could simply introduce unique villains, ones unaffected by Naruto and Sasuke’s powers. Or, who amplify their own power using scientific ninja tools like the one seen in Boruto: Naruto the Movie. This would allow unique abilities like Boruto’s dōjutsu or Sarada’s strength-Sharingan combo to shine.
In Naruto, battles like Chiyo and Sakura vs. Sasori and Kakashi vs. Obito held our interest because they relied on strategy. They stood out from the glamorized Susanoo-Kyuubi battles that ensued toward the end of the series. Eventually, you tire of battles that boil down to who has the bigger bomb. We want to see characters go up against skilled shinobi that we aren’t confident they can beat. The anxiety this causes keeps us coming back for more.
There are hints that these chess-like matches will continue, such as Sarada’s battle against Buntan Kurosuki, one of the New Seven Ninja Swordsmen. After catching Buntan in a genjutsu, Sarada notices that their lightning attacks have heated the water around them. Using a paper bomb, she causes an explosion amplified by the increased hydrogen in the air. Up until that point, the two kunoichis appeared to be equal. Sarada’s quick thinking gave her an edge. Battles like this would set the shōnen series apart from its predecessor and make the world of Boruto one worth investing in.
There are three main jutsu types in the Naruto universe: taijutsu, genjustu, and ninjutsu. However, ninjutstu was all that really mattered in Naruto. Kishimoto mostly ignored genjutsu, the ability to cause your enemies to fall victim to illusions unless the user was from the gifted Uchiha clan. Taijutsu, despite the emphasis on Rock Lee’s storyline, also became obsolete as the series continued to focus on the flashier and overpowered ninjutstu style. (Yes, being able to blow fire from your mouth is, admittedly, cool.) As a result, characters like Rock Lee and Tenten, a skilled weapons user, became nothing more than two-bit players who didn’t impact the overall story.
Shifting to more strategic battles, as previously mentioned, might help mitigate this. But even now, Boruto heavily favors ninjutsu-dominant users like Mitsuki. Hopefully, we will see the show shift its focus to include characters like Metal Lee and Mirai, an adept genjutsu like her mother Kurenai. Jutsu variety would also increase the number of strategic battles, giving us great hand-to-hand fighting and well-laid traps.
Boruto gives Ukyō Kodachi the chance to create a truly robust world with three-dimensional characters and realistic battles. One that doesn’t immediately nerf its “if you work hard, you can accomplish anything” mantra by having birthright and destiny win out in the end. In Boruto, teamwork and hard work might actually pay off for all, and that is exciting.